On a hot summer weekend, Stinson’s 3.5-mile stretch of sand teems with sunbathers lounging amid the lifeguard stands, offering up the most ‘Southern California’ vibe of the Marin beaches. Waves here can be substantial, offering surfers and swimmers ample activity—though be warned, a wetsuit may be in order for longer dips. Showers and bathrooms are available, as well as a stretch of green beyond the dunes for grilling and tossing a football. After a long day, salty bodies can be found lining up outside the Parkside Snack Bar, which offers up burgers, smoothies, and soft serve cones. No shirt, no shoes, no problem.
A bird watcher’s haven, Limantour is paralleled by an estero that houses the nesting grounds for a plethora of shorebirds. The beach itself is a substantial stretch of white sand backed by grassy dunes, offering up endless space for picnics and castles. Walk a few miles south along the water to discover arches and caves naturally formed among the rocks, but be wary—this area can be tricky to maneuver at high tide. If visiting between January and April, chances are you’ll be able to spot a gray whale, migrating to Baja California for a winter escape.
Named for Sir Francis Drake, whom historians claim docked his ship here in the 16th century, Drakes Beach resides at the southern tip of the Point Reyes Peninsula. The sand is overshadowed by massive white sandstone cliffs, which protect sunbathers from wind and provide a stunning backdrop between the sea and sky. The Sunday of Labor Day weekend offers the Annual Sand Sculpture Contest, where various age groups compete to show off their creative prowess. When it gets too chilly, head up to Drake’s Beach Café for steaming clam chowder or veggie chili.
While not a traditional beach, The Inkwells consists of several swimming basins formed within the rocks by the San Geronimo Creek. Tucked beside Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Lagunitas, this favorite among locals is the perfect compromise between the need for a cool dip and the reluctance to schlep all the way to the ocean. The water is clear and crisp, and sun-baked boulders await you for a post-swim doze. Vertical rocks offer jumping points, and some daredevils even make the leap off the Inkwells Bridge that roofs the pools. However, it is essential that you test the water levels before taking the plunge, as the fluctuating depth is heavily determined by recent rainfall.
Unlike the beige sand that coats other Marin beaches, Rodeo is carpeted by a rainbow spectrum of pebbles, making it difficult to leave the beach without at least a handful of the sea-smoothed rocks. With barreling waves and a forceful undertow, swimmers should be cautious, though the point is cluttered with surfers when a promising swell occurs. Rising out of the water at the south end of the beach is Elephant Rock, a massive boulder that is aptly named for its shape. For those who would rather stay dry, a short hike north reveals Fort Cronkhite, where visitors can peer into bunkers remaining from World War II. Right above the parking lot is the Marine Mammal Center, a rehabilitation site for locally rescued seals and sea lions.
Nestled within a wind-sheltered cove, Muir Beach is a quaint stretch of sand three miles west of Muir Woods. Dogs and bonfires are permitted, making Muir a perfect spot for families to haul out a picnic and set up camp for the day. Tide pooling offers up fish and anemones, and the cove keeps waves small enough for easy boogie boarding, kayaking, swimming, and fishing. To the north is the Muir Beach Overlook Trail, ending with a breathtaking, yet windy, vista of the Pacific. But be forewarned; the north end is clothing-optional, and some beachgoers take advantage.
After a 1.8-mile hike through Tennessee Valley, you come upon Tennessee Cove, a dark-sand beach edged by sloping cliffs. As this is open ocean with a powerful current, most visitors choose to stay dry and hike along the water’s edge, absorbing the dramatic views. Because you’ll be trekking in, bring a picnic and plenty of water to enjoy on the sand. At low tide you may be able to walk around the cliff to the smaller, neighboring beach, but be careful not to overstay your welcome. Though no parts of it are visible, the shipwrecked S.S. Tennessee, from which the area takes its name, lies just under the water’s surface.
Tucked into Sausalito’s Schoonmaker Marina, this beach is highly accessible for city dwellers. Sheltered by the harbor, the waves here do nothing more than lap at your feet, making it perfect for waders and small children. If you aren’t privy to a boat, you can still take to the water on a kayak or stand-up paddleboard, both of which are available for rent from nearby facilities. After you’ve worked up an appetite exploring the surrounding Richardson Bay, head over to Le Garage, a French bistro that serves up mussels Provençale and steak frites.
Sitting within the sheltered San Pablo Bay, this stretch of sand makes up part of the 55-acre McNear’s Beach Park. With calm waters, McNear’s Beach is a recreational paradise for swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding. If the bay water is too frigid for you, a swimming pool is open for use during summer months—but getting wet is only one of the diversions. A fishing pier is popular among anglers, and volleyball courts, tennis courts, and picnic areas are available for group play. If you’re planning a large gathering, McNear’s is ideal for keeping the whole gang happy.
If you pine for the beach but are reluctant to leave beloved San Francisco behind, Kirby Cove is your spot. A postcard-worthy panorama of the city and Golden Gate Bridge sits directly east of the beach. Try to go on a clear day, however, as prevalent fog can thoroughly erase this view. After picnicking, you can explore Battery Kirby, a military base used between 1898 and 1934. To reach the cove, you have to leave your car at the parking area on Conzelman Road, then descend the mile-long trail through a pine- and eucalyptus-laden grove. Four campsites are available, but make sure to reserve them well in advance to guarantee a spot.
Kirby Cove, Conzelman Rd, Sausalito, CA, USA +1 415 331 1540
By Natalie Garnett
Natalie is a recent graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, where she double majored in Biology and Art Practice. She loves writing, sketching, and exploring, but most of all she loves chocolate.